They can't manage the stairs, so they can't exercise, or go to classes. They're afraid to shower in case they fall. The ones with dementia don't even know where they are. Is this any way to deal with elderly offenders? By Amelia Hill
Dave was 13 when he got his first custodial sentence. It was 1962 and he had been caught stealing from cars. That sentence was followed by others: he can't quite remember how many. Gamely, he tried to count them: "I think it was 14 or 15," he finally offered. He wasn't always put away – at least seven times, he was given a suspended sentence. Three months ago, he left prison for what he swears was the last time, after serving 14 years of a life sentence. Today, he's an old man. At 68, he spoke to me with as much urgency as his weak heart will allow, squeezing volleys of words in short bursts of breath before wheezing to a stop. He apologised for interrupting, and checked himself when he slipped into the subservient prison habit of addressing me as "Miss".
In 1974, he was arrested for violent disorder. He was 25; one of the lads. It was his first time in an adult prison. "Prison was a place for young men: we were all in it together, you know?" he said. "There were some older prisoners, but not many. And 'older' meant someone in their 50s and 60s then: there were no really old men on the wings. Not like now."